News

June 29, 2016

More waste incompetence from Auckland Council

IMG_6791_1.JPGAuckland Council has spent tens of thousands of ratepayer dollars sending leaflets to nearly 100,000 households in Rodney and Albany to notify residents of changes to Council rubbish collection days despite the Council not having any refuse collection in the area.

Local Government is supposed to be about providing good services to the local community. Council officials must be so tied up in their Albert Street ivory tower that they don’t even know where their own rubbish trucks go. They wrote to householders to notify a change to services that don’t even exist.

Auckland Council provides only recycling collection in the areas that used to be in the Rodney District Council, with householders contracting with private providers to dispose refuse.

Last month, we highlighted that proposed changes will see those north of the Harbour Bridge pay up to two times more for household rubbish collection. So far those Councillors in the affected wards of Albany and Rodney appear to have done little but sit on their hands.

This is the leaflet which tells Rodney and Albany residents their rubbish collection day is chaning (it is isn't).

June 07, 2016

More buses or more paint?

Soon to be blue and greyNo wonder Auckland is feeling blue. Auckland Transport is spending up to $9 million on repainting all public buses a uniform blue colour and wiping out vibrant, easily identifiable local bus colours at a cost of around $9 million.

Auckland Transport’s demand that all buses meet its colour cost is set to cost ratepayers and travellers a lot more than loose change. According to an industry source, by the time a bus is prepared for painting the total cost is between $5,000 and $7,500 for a paint job which complies to AT’s new requirements. Add in the cost of having the bus off the road, and the total for the whole fleet comes to upwards of seven to nine million dollars.

 And we understand the costs are going up even further. The Council is now considering forcing bus companies to retrofit buses with AT embroidered fabrics on the seats.

Wasting $9 million of ratepayers’ money to require private bus companies to paint out their local liveries shows how muddled AT’s priorities are. No wonder local communities are up in arms.

The New Zealand Herald picked up our comments:

Auckland Ratepayers' Alliance spokeswoman Jo Holmes said the move was "insane" and a "waste of money".

"There are a lot more transport issues we could be spending that money on instead of painting buses."

It showed how muddled Auckland Transport's priorities were, Ms Holmes said. "Auckland needs more buses, not more expensive council branding."

Ritchies bus company owner Andrew Ritchie wasn't sure how many buses in his fleet needed the transformation because he was currently tendering new contracts with Auckland Transport. However, each upgrade cost $9000.

"It's going to cost millions all up."

Mr Ritchie said the bill would be passed on to ratepayers because the expenses are written into the contracts with Auckland Transport.

"Someone's got to pay - we're charging someone and that will come back to the ratepayers."

One of our members has also brought to our attention this video by Cr George Wood which provides further information about these expensive changes.

May 30, 2016

Council runs interference on waste

Auckland Council has hit back at our "These Councillors are Rubbish" campaign by wheeling out an official to defend Councillors Wayne Walker and Penny Webster's support of the Council's expensive new waste regime. 

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In a propaganda effort on the ratepayer funded news spin service "Our Auckland" Andrew Duncan, a Council official, said that the leaflets distributed by the Ratepayers' Alliance “could be misleading” despite his own admission that he doesn’t even know how the figures were calculated.

It appears Mr Duncan hasn’t even bothered to visit our website and read the ten page Ratepayer Briefing Paper on the higher waste costs (embedded below). The document exposes the Council’s own forecasts which show how waste charges are set to double for many residents North of the Harbour Bridge.

If Council refuses to believe this, then it should look at its own projected increases in rates as shown in a response under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act labelled  “Solid waste targeted rates” available on the Council's website.

The leaflets use figures from table five of the Briefing Paper. This explains how we got the percentage figures and includes footnotes which reference the Council’s own papers.

The Council’s Chief Executive should be explaining why officials are being allowed to show such political bias and why the Council’s own “Our Auckland” website is running stories which are demonstrably wrong.

Either the Council’s spin doctors don’t know what their own waste department is up to, or they are showing political favouritism by manipulating the facts to protect two sitting Councillors.

Council says households do not pay a rate for rubbish collection. The leaflet doesn’t claim anything different. But Council’s own papers show it is competitively pricing the orange rubbish bags to get an increase in market share. The so-called innovate tagline “the bag that gives back” is misleading in itself. It should be called “the bag that that takes over”. The large increases in rates for other waste services do not make up for any small savings in the rubbish bags.

You can view the leaflets on this page.

May 27, 2016

These Councillors are Rubbish campaign launched

The Ratepayers’ Alliance has today launched a "These Councillors are Rubbish" campaign exposing two of the “Terrible Ten” Auckland Councillors who allowed Len Brown to hike rates by 9.9% last year, and are failing to prevent changes to local waste services which will see some households pay twice as much for domestic waste collection.

In the next 72 hours 72,000 leaflets will be distributed in Rodney and Albany targeting Councillors Penny Webster and Wayne Walker, their voting record, and their apparent support for a new waste regime which will see their constituents pay much more for waste. 

This is the first step of our campaign to name and shame those who have supported Len Brown’s high rates, high debt agenda.

Penny Webster, who Len Brown appointed as chair of the Council’s Finance and Performance Committee, has allowed the Council to effectively max out the credit card and risk a credit downgrade which would see ratepayers, who can ill afford it, pay even more.

Councillor Wayne Walker is just as bad. He stood on a platform of ‘fair rates’ and a rates cap. In fact, Cr Walker voted for Len Brown’s 9.9% rates hike.

In these particular leaflets we’ve highlighted the waste issue, as we believe it is an area with the local ward councillors have really let down the communities they are supposed to serve. They have allowed Auckland Council to force upon Rodney and Albany a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach which will end up costing households much more.

Work by the Ratepayers’ Alliance shows the Council’s new waste regime will cost Rodney and Albany ratepayers far more, despite Councillors Webster and Walker trying to convince voters that it will be “efficient” (see briefing paper below).

Council documents show that householders in:

  • the former North Shore City will pay 64% more;
  • the former Rodney District will pay 46% more; and
  • the former Waitakere City will pay 107% more.

Those North of the Harbour Bridge have generally had lower costs for household waste disposal than the rest of Auckland thanks to a private competitive market. What the Council wants to do is take over the market and force out the competition by subsiding Council operations with rates income. It’s the ultimate in Council empire building which, even according to the Council’s analysis, will cost households much more.

There is still time for the Council to stop these expensive changes. That however is going to require a change in tune from the sitting councillors, or a clean sweep of the “Terrible Ten” at this year’s election.

Voters won’t forget who these Terrible Ten are – we won’t be letting them.

The leaflets call on members of the public to sign a petition calling on Councillors Webster and Walker to stand up for their local communities.

I call on Councillors Wayne Walker and Penny Webster to fight the Council's expensive waste regime and for an opt-out provision in their wards.

May 19, 2016

Rodney ratepayers in for a shock

Ratepayers' Alliance members in Rodney have been in contact with us about the enormous effort Auckland Council is putting in to promote its new household waste services throughout Rodney and Whangaparaoa. Recent advisements running in the Rodney Times, and in a four page “Mahurangi Matters” pullout, the Council is spending our money telling us how great its new bins and services are.

What the Council isn’t telling you

We’ve been having a look at the Council’s waste services. Next month we'll publish a report exposing how the Council plan will dramatically increase the cost to ratepayers.  

In the meantime we thought we'd take a look at the area covered by the old Rodney District Council specifically.

Local Councillor, Penny Webster, was quoted in the Council’s advertising:   

pennywebster.jpg

"More efficient rubbish system for Rodney.

Several people have contacted me regarding the introduction of the large wheelie bins that will eventually replace the orange bags and smaller bins for rubbish collection.

This will not be introduced in Rodney yet, but is coming. Having standard systems for rubbish and recycling collections will be more efficient and cost effective.

Concerns have been expressed about long driveways especially in the country areas.

Having talked it over with my colleague Bill Cashmore from Franklin where they introduced parts of this in the former Manukau City Council days, the suggestion is that the large wheelie bin stays just inside the gate while the small blue bin can still carry the rubbish/recycling to it in the boot of the car. I have been assured it works.

Our research has found that the roll out of Council’s new waste plan will actually see Rodney ratepayers paying 50% more for refuse and recycling services.

Based on dozens of official information requests from the Council, and figures from Council's Long Term Plan and Annual Reports, we’ve collated the table below which shows the forecast movement of waste charges.  

Household solid waste costs (Former Rodney District Council) 

 Per household costs

2014/15

2015/16

2018/19

Targeted rate for solid waste for Rodney ratepayers [1]

$86.93

$103.23

$170.00

General rates, UAGCs rates penalties for solid waste [2]

$25.53

$31.63

$42.75

Private user charge (based on 52 bags at $2 per bag) [3]

$104.00 

$104.00 

$104.00 

Total household charges for solid waste services

$216.46 

$238.86 

$316.76 

Costs of Council intervention in the competitive waste industry will see total rates increase by over $100 per year to well over $200 per year as the plan is rolled out. On top of this ratepayers will still need to pay Council or private operators around $104 per year (52 bags at $2 each). Also, it appears that Council may be using some of the targeted rates (intended for recycling) to subsidise the Council's refuse collection (which is supposed to compete against existing private providers). 

According to Auckland Council's responses to our information requests, the average household in Rodney will be paying 46% more by 2018 under the new waste regime than they paid in 2015, or 32% more than what it costs right now.

Is this what Penny Webster meant by "efficient"?

The Council’s charges mean that the costs per household, on average, will increase by nearly 50% between 2014/15 and 2018/19.

The ultimate test for whether the Council's system is efficient is very simple - allow residents to opt out of their rates for the same service if they contract with the private sector. If the Council's services are the most competitive then no ratepayer will opt out. But Council won't let you opt out even if these services are being offered privately. This doesn't support their efficiency claim. The Council falsely says that its bags are cheaper than private alternatives but forget to tell ratepayers how much their rates will increase to pay for increased waste costs.

The current private refuse collection services allow residents to choose between various size bins or refuse bags. Private companies also provide residents with choice on collection frequencies from once a month or weekly. It is not clear whether Council will even go this far with their more expensive system.

Another example of why we need better local representation


The Terrible Ten 

Of course, Councillors Penny Webster and Wayne Walker were among the “Terrible Ten” who voted for Len Brown’s 9.9% rates hike. Click here to join our volunteer army which will be delivering leaflets in the coming months reminding voters of their voting record.

March 31, 2016

Exclusive: Auckland Council funding 250 organisations

Today we can reveal that Auckland ratepayers are being forced to fund some 250 professional associations and lobby groups thanks to the Council’s efforts to join and unduly influence the very bodies which seek to lobby it.

It’s bad enough Auckland Council is funding the Chamber of Commerce and the Property Council. Now we discover the Council is funding the Bibliographical Society of Australia and NZ; the Public Relations Institute of NZ and even the UK Institute for Archaeology.

We've asked, but the Council has refused to tell us, how much it has spent on the Property Council to date. It's not good enough. Ratepayers deserve transparency.

Ratepayers will be aghast to learn how many overseas based organisations the Council has been funding with locals’ rates. Why on earth is the Council funding the likes of the Institute of British Engineers, the International Society of Automation, or the Oral History Association of Australia?

No wonder Auckland planning is such a shambles. The tentacles of Council reach into every possible planning group effectively creating a line up of sock puppets.

Look at the funding of the NZ Archaeological Association for example. This was the group which first blew the whistle on the fact that many of the Council’s Mana Whenua ’sites of value’ in the Unitary Plan don’t exist. The group has subsequently pulled back. How can groups such as this provide the necessary checks and balances on the Council when the Council itself buys its way into them?

Today the Council votes on whether to keep funding the New Zealand Property Council, a lobby group whose very purpose is to hold the Council accountable on regularity and planning matters. How can they possibly perform their necessary function in an unbiased manner when one of their members is the very group they are supposed to be lobbying?

We are proud to be one hundred percent funded by our members and supporters. We maintain ourselves as a strong independent voice by not accepting a cent of Council money. Now we’re calling on the Property Council, the Chamber of Commerce and Business NZ to hold themselves to the same standard.

February 09, 2016

Eastern suburbs meeting - petition

western_meeting.jpgIn December last year Auckland Council announced zoning changes to many areas of Auckland. Many properties affected face having their zoning changed by Council's use of an "out of scope" provision that has not been based on public feedback, and on which the public has no right of reply. These changed zones will lead to dramatic increases in housing density in many suburban areas. The suburbs affected include Remuera, Orakei, Glendowie, Meadowbank, St Johns, St Heliers, Mission Bay and Kohimarama.

Sign our petition to tell Auckland Council to withdraw the proposed changes until we, the ratepayers, have had a say!

To sign the petition click here

December 17, 2015

Exclusive: Auckland Council hikes CEO's pay by 9.5%

StephenTownandBrown.jpgThe Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance can reveal that Auckland Councillors today approved a 9.5% pay hike for their Chief Executive, Stephen Town, at a public excluded meeting of the Councillors. The Ratepayers' Alliance understand that Mr Town’s salary will increase from $630,000 to $690,000.

We received the tip off early this afternoon, and subsequent confirmation from a person within the Council.

Ratepayers will be staggered that at a time when approval of the Council is at an all time low, it is rewarding its Chief Executive with a 9.5% salary hike. With inflation close to zero, and so many ratepayers struggling in the lead up to Christmas, the decision is grotesque.

If the Council was performing well, this could almost be justified. However with a the current economic climate, the Council’s sky high debt and seeming inability to rein in costs, there is no justification whatsoever for an increase of this magnitude."

It’s these sort of decisions which led to the formation of the Ratepayers’ Alliance. Len Brown has handed ratepayers a big lump of coal for Christmas and we need to stop this culture of extravagance and backslapping.

Tell us what you think by clicking here.

UPDATE: $690,000 confirmed

The Council has just issued a press release confirming that we were right. 

Media release 

Chief executive remuneration package decided

17 December 2015 

Today Auckland Council’s Governing Body determined a new remuneration package of $690,000 for Chief Executive Stephen Town.

The Mayor and Councillors received recommendations from the CEO Review Committee. Chair of the CEO Review Committee, Councillor Christine Fletcher says, “The Committee has reviewed Mr Town’s performance over the past two years. He is an experienced chief executive and has brought about some very positive changes at council.”

“Mr Town’s remuneration is aligned with the council’s focus on providing sound financial stewardship and doing more with less without compromising customer service, community and citizens. It is ensured our workforce effectively serves a diverse and changing Auckland.”

The increase will come into effect from 15 January 2016 and will be fixed for a period of two years.

Key facts on CEO remuneration can be found on Our Auckland here.

Ends 

Nice of the Coucnil to link to "Our Auckland" - the Council-owed spin machine media service.

December 17, 2015

NewCore shaping up to be a rotten deal for ratepayers

The NZ Herald reports:

A $157 million Super City computer system has a potentially "catastrophic" risk, says Auditor General Lyn Provost.

The NewCore system, the cost of which has blown out from $71 million to $157 million, also carries an "almost certain" risk with a "major impact", she said.

Last night, the council's chief information officer Dean Kimpton said Ms Provost was commenting on information supplied in May and the computer system had improved significantly since then.

If that’s the case, Mr Kimpton needs to stump up with new figures to dispel any speculation. It is simply not good enough to try and brush this cost-blowout under the carpet by saying “Trust us, it’s now under control.” Ratepayers deserve better, and councillors should be demanding more.

In the past few days, Ms Provost told the council's leadership and councillors the NewCore programme is an area of significant cost and risk to the council.

NewCore is considered key to delivering the promised savings of the Super City. It is designed to consolidate the outdated operating systems of the former eight councils, which merged in 2010 to become the Auckland Council.

It is ironic, yet worrying, for ratepayers that the very programme established to deliver the much vaunted efficiencies of amalgamation has itself cost more than double what was expected!

Ms Provost recommended council management review the risks. She also recommended management update the business case justifying continued investment in NewCore.

"Benefits are now forecast to total $58 million by 2022, whereas the original business case had benefits reaching $75 million by 2022," Ms Provost said.

Again the Council have over-promised and are set to under-deliver, with ratepayers picking up the bill.

A report to councillors in May made no mention of a "catastrophic" risk with the data issue, only that the "issues are being prioritised and addressed".

Last week, council managers gave councillors an upbeat progress report on NewCore, saying it was progressing well and forecast to be completed on time and on budget.

It looks like the the bureaucracy is working overtime to keep Councillors from asking the hard questions.

When ratepayers’ elected representatives are kept in the dark about such a serious issue, it’s a sign that there’s a significant cultural problem among Council officials. This needs to change.

December 15, 2015

ATEED to spend $500k on catchphrase

ateed-logo.jpgStuff.co.nz is reporting that Auckland Council's ATEED is to spend nearly half a million dollars on new look and catchphrase.

Auckland will have spent half a million dollars on a new image and catchphrase by the time its "Global Auckland" branding project is completed next year.

It will be money well spent, says the head of marketing for Brisbane city, which recently went through a similar exercise.

Auckland is aiming to develop a brand to help attract more international visitors, events, skilled migrants and investment.

Global Auckland kicked off in April, and Aucklanders won't learn what their new catchphrase is until mid-2016.

The job is budgeted to cost $480,000 in total, the city's economic development agency ATEED said. [...]

The question is, will ratepayers ever see $480,000 of benefit for a logo and catchphrase? We think not. When was the last time you visited Sydney or LA because of how its Council's busy bodies have crowned the city?

The first phase included more than 100 one-on-one interviews, focus groups, surveys and a digital campaign.

Out of that the themes and strategy were developed and tested on audiences.

The project team was now translating those into creative concepts, design and communication tools.

"ATEED is working to ensure that Auckland's new global identity is reflective of the people who live here by engaging far and wide," Bridgwater said.

The members of the Global Auckland advisory group are:

* Jane Hastings, CEO of NZME - chair

* David Downes

* Ngarimu Blair, Ngati Whatua o Orakei

* Heather Shotter, Committee for Auckland executive director

* Dr Sudhvir Singh, Generation Zero

* Michael Barnett, Auckland Chamber of Commerce CE

* James Hurman

* Tracey Fox, APN NZ creative director

* Karl Ferguson, Auckland Council communications and public affairs director

* Viv Beck, Heart of the City CE.

How the environmental group Generation Zero are experts in branding and international marketing we don't know and we wonder how much of the $480k these people are being paid.  Are they treating is as a civic duty; a volunteer role to better promote our great city? Or another ratepayer funded trough?